Hmm... I wonder how accurate this column title is at this point. The economy is on an upswing, after all, and I am starting to feel a bit unpatriotic, dwelling our nation's shortcomings so. Maybe I should be calling these things "Recovery Refreshment," or maybe, "Boozehoundin' and Reboundin'?"
Anyway, I know I haven't gotten a raise in awhile, and cheap wine is always welcome, good times or no, so I've got a real winner for ya'll this week: Aleph Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, from Mendoza, Argentina.
I picked this one up on a whim at Schneider's of Capitol Hill last week, from a case stack near the front registers, priced at a mere $3.99. When I asked the sales guy for his opinion, I was informed that it was "great," and had garnered an 89 point score from the Wine Spectator, to boot! Here's what that rag's editor James Molesworth had to say about the Aleph, back in September of 2004:
High-toned berry, vanilla and floral notes are followed by red and black cherry and red currant fruit, with elegant toast and mineral notes as well. Gains flesh and length as it opens, with nice sweet fruit through the finish. Drink now through 2006. Score: 89. 750 cases made. Release Price: $20
(As is evident from the review, scores do come with an expiration date, which is part of the reason I think they are BS to begin with -- does the Aleph stay an 89 for its entire usable life, or did it drop to an 88 in 2004, then a 75 in 2005? Is it now a big fat goose-egg, or worse, poison?!)
Well, regardless of score, this one apparently did not sell as well as it might have, which is why Schneider's got it at such a deal, and is now marketing it now at a fifth of it's release price! After many years in bottle, this wine now exhibits a pretty dusty leather / mushroomy character on the nose, along with violets, raisins, and grapefruit. The black cherry on the pallate still holds over from this Cab's youth, as does a bit of vanilla, but the flesh and sweetness that Molesworth found have mellowed out, leaving it much softer and more mild than it had been upon release. Where it was once vibrant and bright, the Aleph has faded, but in the best possible way, retaining plenty of acid and fruit, and trading power and grip for those strange and wonderful flavors that only come with age.
(Note: Unfortunately, age also brings brittleness. As with many old wines, removing the cork on this one was a bit of a challenge, and it broke in half in the bottle neck, so exercise caution whilst opening.)
Considering the extremely small production run on this wine, I am not surprised that I have not seen it anywhere else, and I don't expect to. Schneider's had about four cases stacked on the floor, and probably has several more in their sizable warehouse. If you eschew the bold fruit and boozy strength of young wines in favor of something a bit more subtle, the Aleph Cab 2002 is an incredible buy for less than a fiver.
Schneider's of Capitol Hill
300 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast
Washington, DC 20002-5702